Opinion: Wales’ Basic Income pilot should also support those in heavy industry

By: Jane Dodds MS.

See original post here.

TODAY, I will introduce a debate in the Senedd that will call on the Welsh Government to consider extending its current Basic Income (BI) pilot to workers employed in heavy industries that will be impacted by Wales’ transition to a net-zero carbon economy.  

As protesters occupy the Aberpergwm Coal Mine in Neath, we are constantly reminded of the urgency in our battle against climate change.

The global economy is undergoing the most significant transformation seen in decades. As we confront the threat of climate breakdown, industry is having to change faster than before in order to meet our climate goals.  

For a number of workers, this transformation poses significant challenges, not least in heavy industry which often relies on carbon-intensive processes to produce raw materials and manufactured goods.  

This presents a significant problem for Wales.

Around 217,500 people, some 18 per cent of the working population in Wales, are employed in heavy industry. These workers are concentrated within the South and Northeast of Wales, communities which still bear the scars of deindustrialisation.

All efforts to protect our planet for future generations must ensure that the transition to net-zero is a ‘just transition’, ensuring that communities that are currently reliant on carbon-intensive employment are supported to transition, not left to whither.  

It is for this reason Basic Income could be such a powerful tool to avoid repeating the destruction of industrial communities seen under the government’s of Margret Thatcher.  

The International Institute for Labour Studies paints a bleak picture for our economy, with chronic unemployment, job creation focussed on low-skill and low pay, a lack of job security, declining real incomes, and rationed social security programmes.  

By extending the BI pilot from care leavers to industrial workers, the Welsh Government could provide communities with an insurance policy, preventing communities falling into further poverty.

We could make the case for a safety net through which nobody would fall but from which everyone could rise. 

Equally as important, a BI for this group of workers can be used to support people while they undergo retraining and upskilling to gain employment in the industries of the future. We can empower workers to determine their own futures, rather than being caught in the space between low-paid and insecure work and a punitive social security system.  

We cannot, under any circumstances, repeat the catastrophic mistakes of Thatcher and the Conservatives where whole communities in Wales were destroyed by the closing of industries with no plan to replace them and no plans to reskill the workers who lost their jobs.  

The transition to net-zero is not only essential, but also inevitable. Countries that fail to prepare for it will be increasingly hard hit by the instabilities associated with global heating and consequential changes to the economy and workforce.  

I am glad I have received cross-party support for my debate this week including from Labour MSs Jack Sargeant and Carolyn Thomas and Plaid Cymru MSs Delyth Jewell and Luke Fletcher.

Wales could be the first country in the world to pilot BI among those in society that are vulnerable to job losses resulting from the battle against climate change. I hope the Welsh Labour Government will take this opportunity by the reigns.  

Jane Dodds is the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the MS for Mid and West Wales

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